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Hanger pushing driver-fee repeal in exchange for gas-tax hike

Story by Chris Graham

If Virginia is going to get rid of the abusive-driver fees that caused so much rancor last summer and last fall, and Emmett Hanger is on board with the idea, and actually was before the fees were passed and signed into law last year, Hanger believes that it would only be the responsible thing to do to find a way to replace the estimated $60 million that the fees were supposed to put into the state transportation budget at the same time.

And so it is that Hanger is carrying a bill in the 2008 Virginia General Assembly to repeal the driver fees and replace them with a two-cent increase in the state gas tax.

“I don’t want to pretend, as some people down here seem to be in the business of doing, that fees aren’t taxes,” Hanger said in an interview for today’s “Augusta Free Press Show.” “But what was put in place last year was a series of fees that really are taxes, and I think we really need to be more straightforward. And the gasoline tax really is a user fee that you can determine how much you’re going to pay based on the vehicle you drive and the mileage it gets and the amount of time you spend on the road, in a lot of instances. So I think it’s an appropriate way to raise money, if you need it. We still need to continue to make sure that we have efficiencies in the way that we spend the money so that we don’t take any more of the taxpayers’ dollars than we have to.”

Hanger’s bill, SB 469, is currently under review in the Senate Finance Committee. He was in full salesmanship mode in our interview, which was recorded last week, touting how “from a Virginia taxpayer perspective” the replacement of the unpopular abusive-driver fees with a hike in the gas tax “would actually be a reduction in total in what we’re paying in regards to them with the abusive-driver fees, because one of the shortcomings (with the driver fees) that it had was that only Virginia drivers would be required to pay the fines and the penalties based on our constitution and how those monies would normally flow into the Literary Fund.”

“I indicated a couple of months ago that I was going to put in a bill to repeal the fees – and at that point, some people were still talking, in fact, the governor was talking, about just fixing it so that we could continue to have them. But now I think it’s become very popular down here – the governor has jumped on board, and a number of individuals are supporting bills that would repeal the abusive-driver fees. But most of them, quite frankly, are saying, Yeah, we’re going to repeal them, but they’re looking at creating a hole in the budget by not replacing the revenue. I think as a practical matter that we have to look at if we’re going to continue to fund our transportation projects, we probably should look on the flip side of that, of replacing the revenue,” Hanger said.

“At least in discussing how we’re going to move forward on this, I think even in a time when gasoline prices are high, the market really dictates the price, and unfortunately, we’re all captive to it right now. And we don’t know whether when we go out tomorrow morning to buy gasoline it’s going to be 20 cents more or 20 cents less – most likely 20 cents more. But my point being, that’s just one component of being able to ride on the roads – the other of course are the roads themselves. And we have to address that,” Hanger said.

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.

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